EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — On Tuesday, Dec. 21, Pete Castellano stepped down from the Board of Education after serving two decades as an elected member of the Board including three years as president, three years as vice president, and four years as president of the Atlantic County School Boards Association.
What many do not know about Castellano is that the long-time Egg Harbor Township resident is also the founder of the Community Partnership for Egg Harbor Township Schools, Inc., a 501©(3) non-profit public charity whose mission is to raise supplementary funding for the largest district in Atlantic County.
Between 2000 and 2010, the local school district saw a dramatic 42% increase in student numbers. The staggering population explosion was due largely in part to the Township’s designation as a “regional growth” area mandated by the state to protect and preserve areas of the Pinelands. As a result, the local school district was faced with the financial burden of expanding school facilities to support the enrollment surge, with no additional funding from the state.
In 2005, Castellano proposed the unique idea of starting a new nonprofit organization to help address the funding shortfalls in the Egg Harbor Township School District. Although the district already had thriving district-approved organizations that raised funds annually to meet their specific goals, there was no group that was dedicated to supplementing district needs not covered by the annual budget.
As Community Partnership founder, Castellano was able to help form the first small board of trustees who were drawn from the community and shared common visionary goals, and who were willing to devote the time and energy needed to help the new organization grow and succeed. With Castellano at the helm, the Community Partnership for Egg Harbor Township Schools, Inc. was incorporated in December 2005 to help address the district’s budgetary shortfalls.
To date, the IRS-recognized nonprofit has raised nearly $500,000 for capital projects, instructional technology, academic enhancement and extracurricular activities. It has provided start-up funds needed to establish boys and girls lacrosse teams at Egg Harbor Township High School; capital project funds to to erect an LED marquee sign at the entranceway to Egg Harbor Township High School, add new commercial cooking equipment at the football stadium concession stand, build three new elementary school playgrounds, and install districtwide life-saving Automated External Defibrillators (AEDs); instructional technology funds for three new computer labs, to supply iPads for elementary students with autism, to create a professional Digital Recording Studio and two satellite studios, add a Programmable Logic Controller (PLC), and new TV Cameras and studio upgrade equipment for EHT-TV; and academic enhancement funds to provide a ‘Leg-Up’ equestrian program for at-risk middle school students, to create a writing lab at the high school, and add a Steinway grand piano for Performing Arts students.
“Many support groups are needed in order to allow for the successful operation of the Egg Harbor Township School District,” said Dan Jacoby, president of the Community Partnership.
“Each group has a vital and integral role; however, we are happy that Pete saw a need for the creation of the Community Partnership giving even more people the opportunity to make a difference in the largest district in Atlantic County. Over the past couple of years, I am especially proud that the Community Partnership and the other fundraising groups in the district have created new opportunities to work in unison to raise even more supplementary funds together,” added Jacoby.
An attorney for William J. Hughes FAA Tech Center during the day, Castellano has decreased his role with the Community Partnership over the years so that he could dedicate more time to the Board of Education, his family, and his career. Although he turned over the Community Partnership leadership reins more than a dozen years ago, he has always remained an active member, keeping a finger on the pulse, supporting fundraisers, attending meetings when they didn’t conflict with his other commitments, and offering advice and guidance when needed.
Deciding not to run for Board of Education re-election this year was not an easy decision for Castellano, but ultimately he felt it was time to pass the baton and give other residents a chance to lead the charge.
“I have devoted my entire adult life to public service, at the local, state and federal level. It has been a great honor and privilege to have served the Egg Harbor Township School District over these past years,” he said.
To learn more about the Community Partnership, visit communitypartnershipeht.org.